In times of narcissism, frivolity and egocentricity, of me-ism, self-exaltation and constant looking at oneself in the mirror; of belly buttons, vanity, petulance and arrogance; of undue personal exposure, of Instagram, of Twitter, of Facebook and other tools designed to massage egos and feed vanity; in times of selfies galore, daily exhibitionism and hollow self-glorification, of rare authenticity and excessive conceit, a proper noun comes to mind, two words. The spirit of a man who brings cordiality and normality to an environment filled to the brim with figures looking for their fifteen minutes of fame. Manolo Santana.
In some ways he represents a valuable window to the virtues of the past, when sport was more sporting and its stars were much warmer, more worldly, more humble. Him, Manolo, the kid from Chamberí who packed up his belongings and travelled the world, who made friends with the Australians and triumphed in a predominantly English-speaking environment to place Spain on the international sporting map. He is a shining example in the midst of these times of misplaced and misunderstood eccentricity, in which a significant number of twenty-somethings are driven more by money and fame than their love of the game or their passion for that which should, in theory, motivate them.
He, Manolo, has set the standard sky-high with complete dedication and determination, demonstrating rarely-seen commitment day after day. He, Manolo, is tennis, sport, or at least genuine sport, the real thing, the one in which there was not so much commercial interference or barriers, so many individual interests or intrusions. He, Manolo, is the fully-fledged señor who welcomes you and opens the door to his office, the friendly pioneer, the figurehead respected by all modern figures and he is revered as a lord at Wimbledon, recognised in Paris, Melbourne and New York, whatever the stage.
He is, without a doubt, an extraordinary link to all things genuine. He has managed to adapt to the ups and downs, but without ever losing his essence, greeting with a shake of the hand; a good old chat in Madrid or Marbella, an evening drink at Queen’s, politeness at Bois de Boulogne, that conversation with Andrés Gimeno in the Caja Mágica, etc. The ever-present sense of humour or a valuable opinion that will always enrich a text. A cordial and warm gentleman, elegant in his suits and always ready to praise your jacket, a shirt or shoes, or a young lady that passes by at any given moment and also draws a complement. Ever-ready Manolo.
I met him not long ago, in 2011, but ever since I have thought of him (as I think many journalists do) as a friend, somebody who is much more than just a sportsman. The person, above all. You can reach the top, and deservedly so in his case, but the tricky part is to continue to be yourself, genuine and respected, without Instagram, Twitter or trending topics. And he is naturally himself, the simple, respectful and ambitious guy who started out in Chamberí. For me he was initially Santana, but he immediately became Manolo, nothing more. And he still is.
You are great, champ.
*Alejandro Ciriza is an EL PAÍS journalist responsible for covering tennis.